Between a vibrant gastronomical scene and a built-in mentality that so often stresses craft and perfection, Japan is set up perfectly for a top-shelf cocktail game. This is, after all, the nation that brought you sashimi and is home to the most Michelin-starred restaurants of any country on planet Earth.
And this is to say nothing of the fantastic brethren scenes of beer, sake, and select spirits like whisky unfolding in The Land of the Rising Sun. So, of course the bar-loving place that brought you the izakaya would excel at the cocktail. To sip in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto is to experience cocktail culture at its wealthiest. But, alas, we can’t always get there. Fortunately, you can make many of these mixed wonders at home.
Below are some great drinks to introduce you to the wide and welcoming world of Japanese cocktails (and those simply inspired by Japanese culture). Some are classics, others pulled from skilled bartenders, and others still pulled from the fantastic new book by Michael Anstendig and Masuhiro Urushido,. As the book directs, check out your local Japanese markets or online shops for some of the most obscure ingredients. Cheers!
This lovely number brings on Japanese gin and an orange liqueur, modified beautifully by Chartreuse. For a drink so faint in color, you’ll be blown away by the broad spectrum of subtle flavors at play.
- 1.5 oz Suntory Roku Gin
- .75 oz Combier Liqueur
- .5 oz fresh lemon juice
- .25 oz simple syrup
- 1 bar spoon Yellow Chartreuse
- Splash of Champagne
- Pinch of salt
- Half a fresh myoga bud
- Muddle fresh myoga in a cocktail shaker with simple syrup.
- Add gin, Combier, lemon juice, Chartreuse, and salt and shake with ice.
- Fine-strain into a tumbler and add a splash of Champagne.
- Fill glass with crushed ice and garnish with a slice of fresh myoga.
This cocktail is built around Japanese whisky but incorporates some Italian and Thai flair as well. “Thai Basil has a unique anise and peppery note that adds herbal depth that, when combined with the perfume-y citrus of Bergamot and the light green apple and floral notes of Toki, make for a cocktail with unique depth without being too heavy,” Mizu bar manager Ed Parowski says. “Watkins adds baking spice and vanilla to make the cocktail taste richer and more warming this time of year.”
(Created by Ed Parowski, Mizu, Charlotte)
- 1.75 oz Suntory Toki Japanese Whiskey
- 1 oz Thai-Basil Infused Cocchi Americano
- .75 oz Italicus Bergamot Liqueur
- 2 dashes Watkins Aromatic Bitters
- Add all ingredients to a mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to dilution.
- Strain over a large cube and garnish with a Thai basil leaf.
This Masahiro Urushido recipe utilizes Japanese rum and a special syrup for a wondrous take on the Daiquiri. It also calls un the wonderful citrus notes offered by yuzu. It’s breezy, layered, and fantastic until the last drop.
- 1.5 oz Mount Gay Silver Rum
- .5 oz Cor Cor Red Okinawan Rum
- .75 oz Shio Koji Pandan Syrup*
- .5 oz fresh lime juice
- .25 oz yuzu juice
- Lime wheel for garnish
- Combine the rums, pandan syrup, lime juice, and yuzu juice in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake and strain into a coupe.
- Garnish with lime wheel.
*Shio Koji Pandan Syrup: In a small saucepan, combine 1.25 cups water and 1.25 cups sugar over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add 2 whole Pandan leaves and bring the mixture to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let cool. Strain through cheesecloth, add 1/2 ounce of shio koji (available at most Japanese markets and online) and blend. Transfer to an airtight container, seal, and store in fridge for up to 1 month.
There may not be a more iconic and replicated Japanese cocktail than the Highball. At its core, it’s a fairly simple drink, emphasizing a good spirit and technique more than anything else. The recipe from Punch echoes the longstanding tradition of the refreshing drink. Remember to pour carefully and use the best lemon you can get your hands on. As expert Masahiro Urushido says in his book, this drink should be “supremely ice cold so that the last bubbly sip is just as frigid and effervescent as the first.”
- 2 oz Japanese Whisky (we suggest Nikka Whisky from the Barrel)
- soda water to top
- lemon for garnish
- In an ice-filled Highball glass, pour the whisky.
- Top with soda water, being careful not to pour directly on the ice.
- Garnish with a lemon expression.
This complex cocktail courtesy of Food 52 focuses on pickled fruits otherwise known as umeboshi and a Japanese plum liqueur that goes by the name umeshu. The end result is kissed by the sea itself, offering a touch of salt to go with the sweet and tart elements. It may soon become your favorite Mojito of them all.
- 2 tbsp umeboshi, pitted and chopped
- 8 fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- .5 oz ginger simple syrup*
- 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice, plus lime rounds for garnish
- 1 ounce sake
- 1.5 oz umeshu
- 1 oz white rum
Ginger Simple Syrup Ingredients:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
- Gently muddle the umeboshi and mint leaves at the bottom of the serving glass.
- Set aside. Fill the glass with crushed ice and add ginger simple syrup, lime juice, sake, umeshu, and white rum.
- Stir thoroughly to combine.
- Garnish with thinly sliced lime rounds and a fresh mint sprig.
*Ginger Syrup Method: Combine sugar, water, and ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for about 5 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved, stirring frequently. Remove the ginger and cool the mixture to room temperature before using. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
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